POWERFUL ALLIANCE AIDS BUSHES’ RISE
BUSH FAMILY’S LONG PATH TO POWER
FIRST OF TWO PARTS
By Michael Kranish
Prescott S. Bush hardly seemed destined to lead a political dynasty when he arrived in Massachusetts in the 1920s. Nothing about his circumstances foreshadowed that his descendants would include two Republican presidents. Here was the young Bush, struggling to run a Braintree rubber factory while receiving little financial help from his wealthy father, a Democrat.
But another figure loomed in Bush’s life: his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, a powerful and much-feared financier who also happened to be a die-hard Republican. With Walker’s intervention, Bush soon left the unglamorous factory to become one of the most successful bankers on Wall Street and, eventually, a Republican senator from Connecticut.
In time, the sons of these men would tie the Bush-Walker bonds even tighter. George H.W. Bush, Prescott Bush’s son and eventually the 41st president, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment money at a crucial moment, from Walker’s son. Without the Walker money, without the extraordinary Walker devotion, there might well never have been two Presidents Bush.
This is the story of the rise of the Bushes, the indispensable role of the Walkers, and the path to power laid by Prescott Bush. It is in many ways a saga akin to that of the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, a sweeping drama that has love and money and politics – and privilege beyond the dreams of most Americans.
The English-bred Bushes and the Scottish Walkers both arrived in New England before the American Revolution. The Bushes made their fortune in the steel plants and railroads of Ohio, while the Walkers flourished in finance in Missouri.
As certifiable Brahmins, both families returned to New England for long summer vacations, formed their bond in the seaside resort of Kennebunkport, Maine, and later lived side by side for decades in the moneyed New York City suburb of Greenwich, Conn. Like so many dynasties, this one was built with fortunes won, and nearly lost,
that were then applied to the pursuit of political power.
In this tale, there is no Joe Kennedy urging his brood to politics. But the cast of characters is perhaps no less compelling: the Bush patriarch, Samuel Prescott Bush, who lost his wife in a tragic Rhode Island accident; the Walker patriarch George Herbert Walker, who sometimes seemed to care more for his Bush in-laws than his own children; the famed Democrat, W. Averell Harriman, who saved Prescott Bush from bankruptcy; and Dorothy Walker Bush, a debutante dynamo who married Prescott and forever linked the two families.
With the election of George W. Bush, the Bushes have challenged the Kennedys for the crown as the nation’s reigning political dynasty. So how did the Bush dynasty arise, and upon what was it built? The answer to that question is, in important ways, the story behind the “W” and the middle name of President George Walker Bush. This is the prequel of the Bush dynasty, gathered from interviews with Bushes and Walkers, archival materials, little-noticed oral histories, as well as letters and other documents divulged for the first time by some family members.
The Missouri financier
It was 1903, and George Herbert Walker was well on his way toward building a fortune and an extended family that would spawn a senator, two governors, and two presidents. A tough bear of a man, a Missouri heavyweight boxing champion who frequently fought and sometimes pummeled his own sons, who liked his Scotch and his racehorses, Walker lived a gilded life in the grandest style.
As the genius behind the successful investment firm he founded and ran mostly by himself – G. H. Walker and Co. of St. Louis – Walker not only maintained the “Walker’s Point” estate in Kennebunkport, but also a New York mansion on Long Island, a stunning residence at One Sutton Place in Manhattan, and a 10,000-acre hunting preserve called Duncannon in South Carolina. There were servants, perhaps 15 of them, a yacht, and, when needed, a private train. He believed in these things: golf, hunting, drinking, horses, gambling, a boat named Tomboy, and, eventually, a son-in-law named Prescott Bush.
George Herbert Walker was supposed to have led a much different life: His Scottish Catholic family had planned for him to be a priest. But when his parents sent him to England to prepare for the priesthood, Walker rebelled.
“As a result of that stern schooling, he grew to hate Catholicism and married a Protestant,” Dorothy Walker, his daughter and the president’s grandmother, said in a 1980 family history. Walker’s family “was so upset he married a non-Catholic that they did not attend their wedding,” she said.
The clash with Catholicism would play a role in the presidential campaigns of former President Bush, an Episcopalian, and President Bush, a Methodist, both of whom struggled to get the Catholic vote.
By all accounts, George Herbert Walker inspired awe and fear even among those closest to him, including his wife. “He was a tough father, a tough old bastard,” said one of his grandchildren, Elsie Walker. “There really wasn’t a lot of love on the part of the boys for their father.”
A private man who disliked being photographed, Walker nonetheless maintained a high profile. When a friend named Dwight Davis established the Davis Cup for tennis, Walker decided to do the same for golf. The Walker Cup competition between amateur US and British teams is still known as one of the preeminent golfing tournaments.
An athlete from Yale
So it is not surprising that when Walker’s daughter, Dorothy, introduced him in 1919 to a golfer and star athlete named Prescott Bush, George Herbert Walker was enthralled. Indeed, Walker and Bush both would eventually become presidents of the US Golf Association.
Prescott Bush was much that Walker was not. Bush, a 6-foot-4 baseball standout at Yale, was elegant, charming, and outgoing, liking nothing better than to sing with the university’s Whiffenpoof chorus, a college glee club that typically consisted of four to seven people singing cheerful tunes.
The Bushes had their own family wealth. Samuel Bush, the great-grandfather of President Bush, ran an Ohio railroad and the Buckeye Steel Castings Co. He lived much of his life in Ohio, working in Columbus and living in a mansion with elaborate gardens in nearby Bexley. Bush helped create Ohio’s workers’ compensation laws, became friendly with organized labor, and was an active Democrat.
Samuel Bush enjoyed luxuries known only to a smattering of Americans at the turn of the century, but he believed that his children should earn their own way in the world, at least after attending Yale.
“My father wasn’t able to support me,” Prescott Bush told an oral historian. “He had a modest income, but he couldn’t support his adult children, and I didn’t want him to anyway. So that’s why I abandoned the law.”
Letters tell of love
This is a shocking statement, given his father’s obvious wealth. A trove of 25 surviving letters between Samuel and his wife, Flora, paint a picture of Samuel working while the rest of the family vacationed year after year at the East Bay Lodge in Osterville on Cape Cod. Flora wrote to Samuel about the need to discipline Prescott, but mostly the letters are filled with affection. Dismissing the need for many friends, Flora wrote Samuel, “You and I are so much to each other, we do not need the others.” Later, Flora wrote: “I want you, need you more every year and we must take good care of each other.”
But they lost each other on Sept. 4, 1920. As Samuel and Flora were walking during a vacation in the Narragansett Bay resort town of Watch Hill, R.I., Flora stepped in front of a car and was killed instantly.
The accident has rarely, if ever, been mentioned publicly by either the former or current President Bush.
The death deeply affected Prescott, who had been working in Tennessee. “My mother had died, and my father was very lonely,” he said. At his father’s urging, Bush returned to Columbus to help his father run a small business, but it failed, adding to the family’s misery.
At the time, Prescott was engaged in his own romance with the debutante Dorothy Walker, whom he had met in St. Louis. Beautiful and competitive, she had placed second in a national girls’ tennis tournament. She was the sort of person who would challenge family members to swim a 1-mile race in the Atlantic Ocean, which, according to family legend, explains the Bush competitive streak. She was born in Kennebunkport and, like Bush, she came from high society. Prescott and Dorothy were married on Aug. 6, 1921.
At first, Bush tried to make it on his own. Hired by the creditors of a rubber manufacturing company in Ohio, Bush determined that the owner was skimming the profits. When Bush exposed the owner, he feared for his life. “My father had to keep a loaded gun in his desk drawer,” former President Bush wrote in his autobiography, “Looking Forward,” recalling that the situation was resolved only when the owner “was convicted of swindling.” Bush briefly took over management of the failing company, which was bought by a firm in Massachusetts.
So the Bushes moved to Milton, with Prescott commuting for two years to the Stedman Products Co.’s factory in South Braintree, on what was then known as “Rubber Row.”
In 1924, their second son was born, and the choice of the name speaks volumes about the man who had become so important in their lives: George Herbert Walker Bush. The two even shared nicknames; Walker was “Pop” and his grandson was “Poppy.” The future president was born in the family’s Victorian house at 173 Adams St. in Milton. After a couple of more years in the rubber business, Prescott decided it was time to work with his father-in-law.
A Wall Street empire
George Herbert Walker had come to New York from St. Louis at the behest of E. H. Harriman, the railroad baron. Harriman’s son, Averell, did not want to run the railroad empire, so Harriman set up his son in an investment business and then searched for the best man in the country to run it. That man was George Herbert Walker.
Averell Harriman would eventually become ambassador to the Soviet Union and to Britain, as well as governor of New York and commerce secretary during the Roosevelt administration. But at that time he was happy to roam the world making deals and leaving Walker in control of the company that became known as Brown Brothers Harriman.
But Walker needed help. He urged Prescott to join him at the Harriman company. “My father-in-law was interested and he had confidence in me,” Bush said later.
Brown Brothers Harriman was perhaps the bluest of blue-blood firms, where Bush worked at a rolltop desk in the wood-paneled Partners Room. Many partners, including Bush and Averell’s brother, Roland, had been classmates at Yale, fostering a clubby atmosphere.
The partnership had huge rewards – and risks. The partners shared profits but were personally responsible for losses.
Walker soon began grooming Bush to become a top officer, leading Bush to run the investment half of what was then the nation’s largest private bank.
It was apparently around this time, in the early 1930s, that Bush split from his father’s Democratic ties and pronounced himself a Republican, in the Walker tradition. Bush also was influenced by his clients, most of whom were wealthy Republicans. Bush was a rainmaker, making his money primarily by charming and snaring potential customers. His greatest accomplishment may have been his 1932 role in helping finance the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) when few anticipated the future of television. He later served on the network’s board.
A fortune threatened
Walker, meanwhile, was increasingly at odds with Harriman and other partners of the firm. One partner, Knight Woolley, wrote later that Walker had “dangerous dealings” that could have hurt the company. Walker was eventually pushed out of the firm, but he may have had the last laugh. As Walker was leaving in 1930, he sold many stocks “short,” meaning he could profit on the decline of the stock market.
When the Depression hit with all its fury, Walker was one of the rare investors who became richer, according to his family. (Another was Joseph Kennedy, who sold many of his holdings just before the crash and also reportedly sold short.)
Just as Walker left, the Depression began to wipe out the Brown Brothers portfolio.
“Things began to crumble,” Bush recalled. Brown Brothers Harriman faced a crisis: The partners, including Bush, were rapidly going broke. Bush might have had to declare personal bankruptcy if the debts had kept growing, and his family might never have been in a position to build a political dynasty.
Luckily for Bush, his partner was one of the nation’s wealthiest men. Averell Harriman secretly poured the family’s cash into the business, and rescued the partners from bankruptcy in the early 1930s.
“The firm lost enough capital, at least on paper, so that we were below water,” Bush said in an oral history recorded in 1966. “As things began to improve, the Harrimans did a very generous thing. They said they wouldn’t take any profits, that the profits would go first to wipe out the deficit in the accounts of the red partners. Follow me? So we came back pretty rapidly.”
The bailout remained a secret for years, and several of Bush’s children said in interviews this year they never knew about it. “There may have been some people who suspected it,” Prescott Bush told the oral historian, “but we never discussed our private affairs with anybody.” Bush added that he was “hoping I’ll be dead” before anyone found out.
The bailout helped Bush to prosper during the booming years of World War II, setting him up for his campaigns for the US Senate in 1950 and 1952. A year later, George Herbert Walker died.
But history was repeating itself in the story of the sons.
In the early 1950s, George Herbert Walker Bush needed hundreds of thousands of dollars for a high-risk Texas oil venture. His father supplied $50,000, not nearly enough. So he turned to George Herbert “Herbie” Walker II, who responded enthusiastically with his own money as well as that of investors in G. H. Walker and Co.
But this financial and personal bond between “Poppy” Bush and the junior Walker caused friction with Walker’s own sons.
“Dad never took much enjoyment from his immediate family,” said Herbie Walker’s son, George Herbert “Bert” Walker III, chairman of a highly successful St. Louis investment company, Stifel Nicolaus. “If you got him cornered he would talk more about the Bushes than his immediate family. This annoyed the hell out of me.”
Ray Walker, another son of Herbie Walker, reported a dinner with his father and George Herbert Walker Bush that explains the bond, and that may explain why the Bushes went into politics.
“My father and George Bush agreed that people in politics are the most important and that people in business are second most important,” said Ray Walker, a Vermont psychiatrist. “First was power and then was money.” Ray Walker did not share those sentiments and remained rueful about the memory, concluding: “My family drove me to psychiatry.”
In his autobiography, former President Bush noted briefly that “my uncle, Herbie Walker, had helped us with funds and his expertise.” His collection of letters, “All My Best,” does not include a letter to Herbie Walker about the crucial investment.
But a previously unpublished letter makes clear the bond. On Sept. 17, 1977, as Herbie Walker lay on his deathbed, Bush dramatically explained the role of the Walkers in the lives of the Bushes.
“You have shown me how to be a man,” Bush wrote. “You have taught me what loyalty is all about. You have made me understand what it is to make a commitment, `bet on a guy,’ as you’d say, and then stick with it through thick and thin. Without your friendship and support, I’d never have had the confidence to dream big dreams. . . . I’m wit ya, Herby, not just cause you handed me the future and made my life sing; but, selfishly, because I need you as my father, my brother, and my best friend. You see, I love you very deeply.
TRIUMPHS, TROUBLES SHAPE GENERATIONS PRESCOTT BUSH PAVED MODERATE PATH FOR SON AND GRANDSON; WOUNDED BY FRIEND’S BETRAYAL, HE PUT HIGH PRICE ON LOYALTY
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff
Prescott Bush was surely aghast at a sensational article the New York Herald Tribune splashed on its front page in July 1942.
“Hitler’s Angel Has 3 Million in US Bank,” read the headline above a story reporting that Adolf Hitler’s financier had stowed the fortune in Union Banking Corp., possibly to be held for “Nazi bigwigs.” Bush knew all about the New York bank: He was one of its seven directors. If the Nazi tie became known, it would be a potential “embarrassment,” Bush and his partners at Brown Brothers Harriman worried, explaining to government regulators that their position was merely an unpaid courtesy for a client. The situation grew more serious when the government seized Union’s assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the sort of action that could have ruined Bush’s political dreams.
As it turned out, his involvement wasn’t pursued by the press or political opponents during his Senate campaigns a decade later. But the episode may well have been one of the catalysts for a dramatic change in his life. Just as the Union Banking story broke, Bush volunteered to be chairman of United Service Organizations, putting himself on the national stage for the first time. He traveled the country raising millions of dollars to help boost the morale of US troops during World War II, enhancing his stature in a way that helped him get elected US senator. A son and grandson would become presidents.
Prescott Bush did not shape great legislation or mold public policy in his modest 10-year career in the Senate. No Joseph Kennedy, he didn’t plot to elect his son and grandson president. But his successes and failures shaped the character of the Bush political dynasty.
His tumultuous campaigns, his fight against his own party, his difficulty courting Catholic voters, his wrestling with the birth control issue – all of these trials have been reflected in both Bush presidencies.
Like Senator Bush, the Presidents Bush have attached great value to civility and loyalty in politics. They too have made self-conscious attempts to distance themselves from their patrician roots and have seemed uncomfortable with the political extremes of their times, just like a forebear who billed himself a “moderate progressive.”
There was little about the family household in Greenwich, Conn., to suggest that Prescott Bush envisioned a life in politics for himself or his family. Politics was rarely discussed at the dinner table, according to the former president, his son George H.W. Bush. This was not a household of rigid ideology. Instead, there was a presumption that wealth begat a duty to serve, a “noblesse oblige.”
“I think I was indoctrinated with the fact that public service would be a wonderful thing to participate in,” Prescott Bush said in his oral history, referring to the influence of his own father, Samuel P. Bush, an Ohio Democrat. “In fact, I felt it was one’s duty to participate in it.”
Prescott Bush was a complex man, morally rigid but politically moderate and even liberal on some issues.
“He demanded very high morals of his family,” said William “Bucky” Bush, another of his sons. “You go down the Ten Commandments. He lived that.”
As a partner of Brown Brothers Harriman, Prescott Bush was an invaluable salesman, bringing in customers with his charm and Brahmin sensibility more than his ability to pick stocks. He stood 6-foot-4 and was movie-star handsome. Laurence Whittemore, who worked with Bush at Brown Brothers Harriman, said Bush reminded him of a “Roman senator on a hill.”
A modest beginning
For 17 years, beginning in 1935, Prescott Bush was the moderator of the Town Meeting in Greenwich, a modest job that hardly seemed a steppingstone for national office. More important was Bush’s post as finance chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party. Republicans had grown to respect his ability to raise huge amounts of money, which has become a family tradition, and Bush began to set his sights on a US House seat. But his banking partner Roland Harriman, the brother of company founder W. Averell Harriman, dissuaded Bush.
“Don’t do it,” Roland Harriman told him. “We need you more here than the House needs you.”
Bush agreed, partly because “it would have been a big come-down for me, financially.”
Soon, however, Bush decided that he wanted to leap directly to the Senate, and Bush’s aspiration nearly was fulfilled in 1950. But on the Sunday before Election Day, Bush was accused of being president of the Birth Control Society. At the time, Connecticut was one of two states to ban the use of birth control, including condoms. (The other state was Massachusetts.)
Connecticut was then 55 percent Catholic, “and the archbishop was death on this birth control thing,” Prescott Bush recalled. Many voters phoned the Bush home, asking whether the story were true. Bush denied it all, but it was too late. He lost the Senate race by 1,102 votes, setting the family standard for razor-thin elections until his grandson, George Walker Bush, was elected president a half century later.
The controversy over birth control foreshadowed the way his son and grandson have faced questions during their presidential campaigns about the depth of their opposition to abortion.
Two years later, Bush once again ran for the Senate, but this time he didn’t get the nomination. He was about to give up on public life when the state’s second senator, Brien McMahon, died. Bush got a second chance to seek the nomination that year, and the party presented it to him on the proverbial platter.
The party leaders came “to beg me to stand for nomination,” Bush recalled. He suddenly realized, “Well, my God, maybe I will be a US senator yet.”
But an unlikely obstacle stood in his way. It was W. Averell Harriman, his former business partner and mentor, who had used his own cash to save Bush from bankruptcy during the Depression.
The two men were now political enemies. Harriman, who in 1952 unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination, gave the nominating speech for Bush’s Democratic opponent, Abraham Ribicoff.
Bush, stung by what seemed like a friend’s betrayal, said: “Harriman made a speech calling for my defeat. Why did he do that? The answer, of course, is that he has become a captive of the extreme left wing of the Democrat Party, which I have consistently attacked.”
The Harriman-Bush episode, perhaps more than any other, marks the birth of the Bush family’s political soul. No more would there be naive assumptions that all patricians and partners in business would stand together. Over the years, the Bushes would be tagged as elitists. They would often respond that the Democrats were the real elitists – and cite Harriman as a bitter example. Similarly, the Bushes value loyalty above all else, and once again Harriman helps explain why.
A new strategy, chance
Prescott Bush, like his son and grandson, struggled to distance himself from his patrician roots. The result was sometimes comical in the 1950s.
“A big surprise of the Connecticut political campaign, now getting under full steam, has been the unorthodox behavior of Prescott S. Bush, of Greenwich, a Wall Street banker, who sings bass with a Yale Whiffenpoof quartet at political rallies and has been accompanied at some of his appearances by the Brooklyn Sym-Phoney Orchestra, the zany musical outfit.”
Bush said he wanted voters to think, “Pres Bush may be a New York banker, but he’s trying to give other people a little fun in life.”
The strategy – aided by Dwight Eisenhower’s coattails – worked. Bush beat Ribicoff by 31,110 votes and gained his revenge against Harriman.
Bush labeled himself a “moderate progressive,” foreshadowing the way his son would run as the candidate for “a kinder, gentler nation” and his grandson would portray himself as a “compassionate conservative.” In fact, Prescott Bush was sometimes too liberal for his party’s conservative leaders, incurring no end of trouble within the GOP. He was to the left of his party on numerous issues, supporting civil rights legislation, larger immigration quotas, and higher taxes.
A typical story about him was headlined, “Bush says tax burden may have to be bigger.” Bush was quoted as suggesting that the Senate should “have the courage to raise the required revenues by approving whatever levels of taxation may be necessary” to pay the nation’s bills for defense, science, and education. He would hardly find agreement with his son, who made the vow of “Read My Lips, No New Taxes,” later broken, and his grandson, who is pushing a huge tax cut.
In 1956, when Bush was running for reelection, he came to a stunning conclusion: The leaders of his own party seemed to be working against him, even hoping to defeat him.
“I was amazed . . . that they would take as small a view as that of a man who is trying to do his damnedest for the Republican Party,” Bush recalled. “It was almost inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t go all out.”
Bush asked the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee to allay his concerns by publicly stating Bush would win. But, confirming Bush’s worst fears, the chairman refused. Worse, stories were leaked to the press saying Bush was the Republican most likely to be defeated.
“It hurt like mad,” Bush said. Again, just as in the Harriman episode, loyalty meant nothing. In the end, Bush won reelection, but the experience left a deep mark on him and his family.
Bush’s son and grandson have taken the lessons of Prescott Bush to heart. On issues such as taxes and abortion, they have tried to swing just enough to the right to keep conservatives mollified, if not entirely happy.
Akin to the Kennedys
While Prescott Bush had his troubles with GOP leaders, he got along especially well with John F. Kennedy. The New Englanders served in the Senate together for eight years and continued to collaborate during the first two years of Kennedy’s presidency.
“There was a certain kind of bond,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy. “Prescott Bush was committed to civil rights. He cosponsored the Peace Corps. They both came to the Senate together. My brother thought Prescott Bush was a very principled person.”
Indeed, when a young Edward Kennedy asked his brother in 1959 to recommend a Republican to speak to law students, John F. Kennedy suggested Bush.
Years later, Prescott Bush reflected on the difference between the Bushes and the Kennedys. “You take the Kennedys, it’s quite extraordinary, but they never were in business, the boys,” Bush said. “They came up through politics.”
Bush’s son and grandson, of course, came up through both business and politics, and the influence of business interests on the Bushes remains at the heart of policy disputes between the two political families.
Senator Kennedy, who knew Prescott and knows the two Bush presidents fairly well, said the current president reminds him of the way Prescott also sought to set a civil tone. But Kennedy rues the way the Bushes have strayed from Prescott’s relatively progressive roots in order to adhere to “modern Republican doctrine.”
Prescott Bush was not a party leader or the prime author of well-known legislation, focusing mostly on local issues instead. His most notable accomplishment may have been his denunciation of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Initially, as a Senate candidate, Bush was reluctant to brush off McCarthy. The Wisconsin senator’s crusades against communists hit a nerve with many people in Connecticut, which had thousands of immigrants from countries that had been taken over by communists.
So in October 1952, just before Election Day, Bush agreed to appear at a rally with McCarthy in Connecticut.
“The place was packed . . . I never saw such a wild bunch of monkeys in any meeting that I’ve ever attended,” Bush recalled. “I went out on stage with my knees shaking considerably to this podium, and I said I was very glad to welcome this Republican senator to our state and that we had many reasons to admire Joe McCarthy . . . I said, `But I must in all candor say that some of us, while we admire his objectives in this fight against Communism, we have very considerable reservations sometimes concerning the methods which he employs. And with that the roof went off with boos and hisses and catcalls and `Throw him out.’ “
After the rally at Kline Memorial Hall in Bridgeport, where McCarthy said he held in his hand the names of 100 communists in the State Department, Bush accepted McCarthy’s invitation to dinner.
“This was all very friendly,” Bush said later. McCarthy asked if Bush wanted a large campaign contribution, but Bush said he was in good shape.
Bush remained friends with McCarthy, but by 1953, Bush was appalled at the way he was attacking fellow senators. After voting to censure McCarthy, Bush sent a message to President Eisenhower. Bush asked him to give a “a good pat on the back” publicly to another senator, who had authored the censure report. Eisenhower immediately took the suggestion, and within hours McCarthy was attacking more senators, who in turn abandoned him.
“So this was the end of Joe McCarthy, when his own crowd left him, do you see?” Bush said later, giving himself credit for McCarthy’s demise. “Joe never knew that I instigated this congratulatory meeting.”
A reluctant retirement
Near the end of his second term, Prescott Bush was urged by his doctor to retire at a time his reelection was not in doubt.
“He once told me the best job in the world was in the United States Senate,” said son Prescott Bush Jr. “He could have been re elected from his desk in the Senate.”
But Bush, exhausted and dreading the endless travel of the campaign, and under some pressure from his concerned wife, stunned the Connecticut political world by withdrawing.
Bush spent the last 10 years of life back working at Brown Brothers Harriman, where he was no longer a top figure, and watching his son George try to follow his path into politics. In 1966, George Herbert Walker Bush was elected to the House. But four years later, he failed to follow his father’s path to the Senate.
When Prescott Bush died in 1972, his son was ambassador to the United Nations, a job given to the younger Bush by President Nixon as a consolation for losing the Senate race. Prescott Bush could hardly have imagined his son and grandson would become presidents. “I don’t think he would be shocked. He would be exhilarated,” Prescott Bush Jr. said of his father.
Prescott Bush left a deep impression on his children and grandchildren. The family pattern is clear: Make an independent fortune in business, then make your mark in politics.
Little wonder that when President George W. Bush talks about his roots, he invariably cites his grandfather’s public service, while most other observers merely focus on his father.
For if there is one thing that Prescott Bush taught his family, it is that politics is life itself. He appears to have been depressed at his decision to leave the Senate in 1962.
“It was a mistake,” Prescott Bush once said. “As I look back on it, having not been happy in retirement for four years . . . I’ve been awfully sorry, many times, that I made that decision. The only stress and strain I’m under is inactivity.”
Savor the role, savor the power, savor the thrill – that is all part of Prescott Bush’s lesson to his children and grandchildren.
“Once you’ve had the exposure to politics,” Prescott Bush said, “it gets in your blood, and then when you get out, nothing else satisfies that in your blood.”